Pick a airline already or is airline elite status worth it anyway?

If you fly 25 times a year you need to start thinking about picking an airline.

I have to admit to my readers I have only had brief encounters with airline status.

The Air Canada Altitude was a brief, useless and frustrating acquisition for me despite having collected a substantial amount of Aeroplan points in the last 4 years. Air Canada does offer some nicer perks to there top tier elites like a special phone number for customer service or better upgrades but leaves the lower tiers almost useless.

So my flights in the last few years have been split between numerous carriers selecting the cheapest revenue flights advertised. I would use Google, Expedia and countless hours mastering the ITA Matrix in search of the cheaper flights available and not getting any sort of mileage in any one airline.

Well, that’s all about to change.

In comes delta’s Ed Bastian, someone I have been following since his 2016 jump to CEO  at the time a troubled airline. Flights with the airline who did a disappearing magic trick with my luggage 7 years earlier seem different today. Delta was not always the friendliest to its frequent flyer friends, the award devaluation was one of the hardest pills for its loyal community to swallow. But at the beginning of this year, I was flying delta between Vegas to Orlando, it was a counter agent who finally made me rethink everything, her attitude about the company made sure I noticed delta.

So 8 months later I now have a measly silver and soon to be gold status and I can tell you my experience with Delta has been worth it so far and as soon as all of my benefits kick-in I will write more about my experiences.

So this got me asking the question when is airline status worth it?

A good friend of mine has been flying American and Oneworld for longer then I have been out of high school and at the beginning of this year during a 6-hour layover in DFW, we had an honest conversation about his breakup with American Airlines over a pint of some slightly drinkable amber beer his language was clear, it was just not worth it.

It is worth talking about some of the reasons he’s leaving American and the resemblance to why I have given up on Air Canada’s Altitude program.  The chances of getting an upgrade on American seemed to have become more confusing to him as a user and IT related issues seem to also plage his user experience trying to get on an upgrade. If you almost never get upgraded the value of the status is diminished; if you get upgraded and that flight gets delayed or canceled finding yourself on an economy seat to another airport after being upgraded you don’t see the point in status. Standby and upgrade lists seem to always jump numbers having the avid flyer confused why he was not upgraded. Coupled with general upset feelings over American’s new policy of let’s make the seats in the economy side so uncomfortable no one ever flys us again and when there is an issue customer service seems to be trained in only one thing, the word NO.

This brings me to the concept I think most airlines need to understand, frequent flyers who are loyal to the alliance are more in a deep long relationship, it is apart of their identity more than just a frequent mileage number. My friend has paid 40% more for his flight just to fly with his airline, made mileage runs and has now lost faith in his marriage with the airline.  So when is it worth the insanity? It is all personal!

Flight upgrades, baggage fees, priority boarding, seating preference, and lounge access is what we are talking about. Award flights are also worth discussing here and how quickly you earn them is effected sometimes by the airline status. But I think Award Flights deserve there own post and I promise to do more posts before the end of the year.

If you fly 25 times a year; you need to start thinking about picking an airline. But if you don’t, this is not worth your time honestly.

The main financial reason to pick an airline is the upgrades, just forget about all the other reasons for now.

Let us be honest here, flying coach for 10 hours before a business meeting is not a great idea. Buying a main cabin ticket and upgrading directly to the next tier 35% of the flights will make this worth every penny.  Let’s look at the costs directly if you were purchasing these from Delta airlines.

Let’s say you purchased DL41 in the Main Cabin round trip and got an upgrade to Delta One 5 times a year. let’s say only 2 of the upgrades are worth $6,000 and the others are worth only $500 each.  That would be $13,500 in free upgrades available making the entire endeavor seem more worth the time and extra work.

So pick an alliance already?

Basically, the main benefit of status is the upgrades. If you pick an alliance, make sure you understand how upgrades apply to you. Star Alliance, One World, and SkyTeam is the choices available it really is up to the 3 big ones to make it worth your time.

Also, look at how one alliance services your airport, simple google flights search can help you see who is normally the cheapest to fly out of your airport. In my case, a Toronto to Sydney flight search using a number of different dates ranges returned SkyTeam as the cheapest ticket more often then star alliance or American’s one world. This helped solidify my choice with delta and furthermore WestJet.

But let’s look at another one here, Toronto to LaGuardia the American flight got cheaper but it is only a $19 dollar difference. In this case, I would book the Delta flight over the American flight before considering my personal experiences with  AA.

Now let’s use the ITA matrix for a minute to illustrate this again with a Toronto flight to Salt lake city.  Using the matrix the graphic on the top of the search shows me delta is cheaper here also.

But let’s look at a flight from Love’s field in Dallas, Here is a place the only carrier that is competing here is delta and Alaska. This is a great place to show you when maybe not to pick the airline you have status with. In this case, I like Alaska and almost never fly with them and at this price, I will take that Alaska flight saving $280 dollars on a short trip. If this was a longer flight with a large mileage haul the $280 would not make me switch away from Delta.

 

Something else to consider is how you value your time, Preboarding can or does sometimes save you stress. Paying for a comfort upgraded flight might be worth it but someone who budget travels a ton might not care about any of these things. You should always track how much you are spending with an airline to feel out what works best; if the financial cost is too high you should have a metric to monitor how much you have spent with an airline and if this is working for you directly. Build a spreadsheet and make sure this fits with your style of travel.

For me, I am pushing my spending with delta right now but in the future, if delta loses sight of taking care of its frequent traveling customers it will be time to talk about a new strategy.

Why are we talking only about upgrades? Because if you are an american the credit card options for free bags and lounge access is a better bet for your value if you don’t care about upgrades. Free bags and award flights are better with an airline credit card.

So if you are willing to make an effort to stick with an airline and fly a ton and don’t have status I would love to hear from you and offer any help I can.

email me   Jonathan  – – nomadicjonathan.com

 

######

The picture is from an Air Canada flight to Miami I got upgraded on to premium but not first class.

 

Leave a Reply